7 Questions with Sonja Elise Freeman
Name: Sonja Elise Freeman
Current title: Founder/Worship Arts Pastor
Current organisation: Divine Voices World Ministries
I am the founder and worship arts pastor of Divine Voices World Ministries. I was an Associate Minister/Communications Director at First Step Ministry Church of Christ Disciples of Christ from May 2012 to August 2020.
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
What I found most challenging as a church leader was low church membership. I was an Associate Minister for the last 8 years in Brooklyn, NY at a small storefront church and the same 20 people were members for the 8 years that I was there. We only had one service on Sunday and our Wednesday Bible Study was a phone conference for years because our congregation's ages started at 65 years and up. The founding family were the core members and the only youth were the First Family's Daughter's children who were 21, 19, 14 and 10. Two of the four children were college students who only attended during the summer and holidays. My pastor was 75 years old and slowed down due to several strokes she had two year after I had arrived. I learned longsuffering all those years there. I soon learned that my job was about ministering to my pastor by just merely showing up and helping her put on her robe was all that was needed by me for 7 years and not increase membership. The first year I sat in the pews and either led the Universal Prayer or sang a Sermonic Solo before the Pastor gave the Sunday morning sermon. All she asked of me was to help her with her robe and buy her Chinese Food after Church, Chicken and Mixed Vegetables or Vegetable Egg Foo Yung with extra Vegetable and sauce on the side and 4 small Chicken Wings with a bottle Pepsi. That was it. Prior to that I was a member of a mega church in Houston for 8 years and I as active in every ministry I could possibly join. I just knew I was suppose to come to this small storefront church and help its membership to grow but I soon learned I was there to serve as needed and not as I wanted. It was a very value lesson I learned. I was her Armor Bearer and I didn't realize until someone brought it to my attention. I thought I was suppose to do more but what I was doing was helping my pastor with her holy garment and then feeding her holy temple every Sunday for 7 years. Wow! So adjusting to serve the church family in Brooklyn, NY it wasn't about great numbers it was about serving where I was needed and for those 7 years it was the pastor and her family who were founding members and the only members for 25 years and counting.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was always a leader in music because I sang in Choirs, Ensembles and I loved Bible Study. Over the years I would assist Music Directors, Worship Arts Directors and Ministry Leaders who would train me to assist them. I accepted my call to ministry when I was 35 after years of running from my call because I truly thought I was suppose to be a big Dance/House singing sensation. I soon realized that God had a greater purpose for me than only singing but to be an encourager, teacher and pastor. When I accepted my call it was not easy because my family did not believe I was called to be a minister. I endured a lot of turmoil from them for many years. But I prayed about it and asked the Lord to order my steps and to deal with my family's hearts to one day receive that I am called to purpose in ministry. It took about 16 year for that to happen! A very long 16 years indeed. But divine timing is always right on time. I would not trade my journey for all that I have received, learned and experienced. God is good!
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Now that I am not longer in Brooklyn, NY and now in Houston, TX and actively in graduate school studying for my Executive MBA I wake up, study my Bible Verse, Pray for guidance and completion of all tasks for the day, eat Breakfast. I review my emails, have a daily accountability call with my dear Sister and Best Friend Carrie Rice who is a Minister in Maryland. We talk for about 30 minutes and share what we will accomplish for the day both in business and in ministry. It is the best thing I have ever done was have her as my accountability partner for the last 5 years. It is so incredible all that we have both accomplished together and individually. I study for three hours, then eat Lunch. After lunch I may get on a Zoom meeting that may be about entrepreneurship, marketing, sales or empowerment conference to feel empowered and re-energized to keep going especially during the pandemic. I would study some more, practice my French because after the pandemic is over I truly want to visit Paris. It has been a dream of mine since I was 17 years old. Hopefully, that dream will come to pass in 2021. Then I practice on my music because I want to learn new songs to sing for church yet also now that virtual concerts are the new tours I want to be prepared. I eat dinner, talk with my daughter Gabbie, who is a recent University of Rochester Film and Media Studies graduate, to keep her empowered and focused because being home all of these month has taken its toll on her. She is a very social being just like me but she is having a harder time not being around her friends from NYC. Plus adjusting to not being a college student to figuring out what is her next move in life has been a bit of a challenge for her as well. Then I try to either read a book or talk to my best friends in NYC one is a minister and one is a musician. We minister to each other with words of encouragement, listen to each others weekly events and cheer each other on when accolades happen in our lives. I just joined a new church here in Houston, Texas and waiting for my date for New Membership Orientation. I am hoping once I fully complete my New Membership duties I would like to serve as a Marriage Officiant and Women's Ministry. I love weddings and I am still prayerful that one day I will get married. I have faith that my day will come so until then I would be honored to marry couples who are in love and committed to the covenant of marriage until death to they part. I usually go to sleep by 11 pm. So far this schedule has worked pretty well since I started grad school this Spring 2020. I have a 3.75 GPA and looking to be inducted in my second honor society at the end of the month. So all is well!
4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The one book that had the most profound impact on my church leadership was "Let It Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven" by Bishop T.D. Jakes. This book impacted me in my leadership because I had to forgive my family for giving me a really hard time when I accepted my call to ministry. It was hard for me to forgive them for about three months and I am not a person to hold grudges but I kept thinking about all the stumbling blocks they would cause to get me to give up my journey towards being a leader in clergy. Reading his book taught me that forgiving someone is more for myself than for that person. That person may never say I am sorry but I had to learn to forgive so that I could have peace and not hold on to negativity that would block my blessings but also be a vessel for Christ. I can be a vessel if I am full of hate and discord. I had to release my anger and frustration towards them for giving me so much grief instead of supporting me. But it wasn't until I forgave them and just held on to my peace that they realized I truly believe that God called me to ministry and there is not going back. When they saw the changes in me as I was at church either ministering in song or teaching a Sunday School lesson or teaching youth music or even singing in the choir and I had such peace over me I became a wiser and peaceful leader. I beamed love. The key to forgiveness is walking in love. Once I realized that everything started to fall into place and my family received me in my calling and I was happier as a leader. I am so glad I read this book. I take what I learned with all of my relationships and I also understand that I would please everyone but as long as I please God that is all that matters.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I would say the most recent significant leadership lesson I've learned is people are always watching me so whether they engage with me or not they are watching. I am so glad that I am respectful of others and I listen more than I speak and also I learned to let go of people who do not honor me. I understand that not everyone will receive me but those who I am anointed and appointed to serve they will receive me and I will choose to always serve them in excellence.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
Communication is the best way to develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church. If there is a weekly way to communicate with fellow leaders via email, Zoom, text or conversation in person or on the phone there is no room for confusion or disruption. When the communication breaks down or some people share while others do not that is a reason for discord. It is so very important to include everyone and be clear and concise on what the plan of action is for all leadership and make sure everyone in heard or able to share their thoughts and be respected.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?
I would say the most meaningful story from my time as a church leader so far has been being an Armor Bearer for my most recent former pastor Dr. Dorothy Lewis. I really thought when I first started to serve her that I should do so much more than putting her robe on and off , hanging it in the closet and then buying her lunch for her and helping her get into her car every single Sunday for 7 years. I also carried her robe and Holy Bible when we would visit churches and then help her get dressed. But it wasn't until I realized I was in charge of her holy attire, Holy Bible, and followed her to the pulpit, made sure she had her water and handkerchief as well as placed her items to her specifications every time. I was her Elisha. She is a woman of very few words, started and ended on time. She told me each and every time when she would allow me to preach on Sunday morning service, "Minister Freeman you are a very good teacher keep doing what you are doing and you will go very far. Keep the faith! Don't give up and know that God is always in control!" Yes, I would say serving her is my most meaningful experience as a church leader. Selah.